Revitalizing Education through Action and Leadership, a REAL Education Plan for Colorado

A Quality Education System for Every Coloradan

I believe the zip code in which a child grows up should not determine their access to quality education. Today, in Colorado, that is not the case. We are experiencing a massive teacher shortage, more than 50% of our school districts can only afford 4 day school-weeks, and our school infrastructure is crumbling.

After decades of involvement in and around schools, it’s clear that despite exceptional efforts from educators across our state, schools do not have the resources necessary to provide every student a high quality education. Income inequality continues to grow in our state and country, while Colorado’s high paying jobs created by our robust economy are being filled by a workforce educated in other states, leaving hundreds of thousands of Coloradans behind. Colorado is a great place to live, grow a family, and find a career - we must have an education system that supports our kids, and provides them every opportunity to be a part of this progress.

Improving our state’s education system to broaden economic opportunity will require strong and honest leadership. Our kids future should not be defined by failures in our political system. We need a Governor - we need a leader - who can make real change.

30 Years of Leadership and Deep Involvement in Public Education
Over the last 30 years, as a manufacturing entrepreneur and civic leader, I have been deeply involved in Colorado’s public schools. I have seen, first-hand, what difference a quality education can make in someone's life. There are few areas where the impacts are so clearly visible, and life altering. I have supported existing efforts to improve education across our state and founded non-profit foundations aimed at filling the gaps in our existing education system and job training programs. I was appointed by Governor Roy Romer to the National Governors Association Roundtable on School-to-Work, served as President of the Denver Public School Foundation, chaired the Denver Public Schools College and Career Readiness Council, and chaired the State Business and Experiential Learning (BEL) Commission under Governor Hickenlooper.

For 3 years, I volunteered as an adjunct business and career development teacher at Montbello Public High School in Denver. I learned valuable lessons from fellow teachers about the teaching profession and saw first-hand the critical need to prepare our students to start thinking about career development earlier in their education.

As the founder of CareerWise Colorado—the nation’s leading statewide youth apprenticeship and job training program, I have played a leading role in redefining how youth are educated in Colorado. This program is recognized as a national model for fighting income inequality, expanding opportunity, and creating more pathways to the middle class.

Nearly 30 years ago I co-founded the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation, a foundation focused on raising graduation rates, and increasing access to education opportunities for at-risk youth. The foundation provides at-risk youth wraparound services throughout their K-12 years and ends in college scholarships for graduating students. Over the years we have changed the lives of 800 kids, improving graduation rates to double and triple the norm. Through the foundation, my wife Leslie and I personally mentored a group of 42 at-risk youth from Denver’s South Lincoln Housing Projects. This neighborhood traditionally had a high school dropout rate of 90%. Over the course of a decade, my wife and I were with our Dreamers every step of the way. In the end, we helped over 90% of them graduate high school and move on to the next steps in their education, and career.

Redefining Education with a Statewide Youth Apprenticeship System
My vision for Colorado’s education future goes hand in hand with my blueprint for transforming economic opportunity in our state. A strong middle class is a strong Colorado. With a statewide youth apprenticeship system, we can redefine how Colorado’s students interact with the needs of our rapidly changing 21st century economy. With this program, we prepare Colorado’s youth for the middle class jobs of tomorrow and expand opportunity for all.

Filling the Skills Gap
In Colorado there is a skills gap. We have 25,000 unfilled jobs that require technical training, but we cannot fill them because we do not have a workforce with the necessary skills.1.  A statewide youth apprenticeship system gives more of our workforce the opportunity to obtain more than a high school diploma — like some technical education or training — so they are qualified to fill the technical jobs that Colorado’s businesses need.

In 2015, Governor John Hickenlooper appointed me to chair the Colorado Business Experiential Learning (BEL) Commission to address the growing skills gap in our state: a divide between what students learn in the classroom and what they need to succeed. In this position, I founded CareerWise Colorado - a nonprofit statewide youth apprenticeship system that connects businesses and high school students.

The Benefits of a Statewide Youth Apprenticeship System
A statewide youth apprenticeship system provides students early opportunities to gain real-world, on the job work experience through paid apprenticeships that lead to postsecondary education and career opportunities -- anywhere from an industry certificate to a PhD. This model allows students to explore careers from 7th to 10th grade, and begin career training through an apprenticeship while they’re still in high school.

Apprentices earn up to 30 credits, or 1 whole year of college, and an average paycheck of $10,000 a year for 3 years -- both of these help students tackle the high costs of higher education, and will actively fight income inequality. As the system develops, apprentices will be able to enter hundreds of different career pathways, taking students from apprenticeships to careers in advanced manufacturing, IT, finance, banking, renewable energy, healthcare, and more. These apprenticeships will help the next generation of students fill the skills gaps in middle class careers that our local businesses need, and provide students new opportunities to better prepare for professions across hundreds of industries.  

Within the next decade, we will provide 100,000 new apprenticeships that lead to the middle class every five years. These apprenticeships benefit the student, help businesses fill their skills gaps, and the entire program will be predominantly funded by industry. These are real 21st Century jobs that cannot be outsourced and provide significant economic opportunity for all young Coloradans.

Increasing Opportunity in Colorado’s Schools
A statewide youth apprenticeship system gives schools new opportunities to adopt innovative systems that create a more holistic education opportunity (if desired) for any student. When schools offer apprenticeships, they ensure their students have access to a public education with opportunities to expand their education experience beyond the classroom. With this system, we maintain the value of public schools and capitalize on the benefits that apprenticeships offer.

Fighting Income Inequality
A statewide youth apprenticeship system will actively fight income inequality in Colorado by providing youth from all backgrounds equal access to apprenticeship opportunities in high school that result in middle class careers and improved access to higher education opportunities. Because this program:

  • Pays an apprenticeship wage ($30,000 over 3 years)
  • Enables apprentices to earn up to 30 college credits (1 full year) for an associate's or bachelor's degree and
  • Can lead to additional scholarship funds from the apprentices host business

Students are more likely to finish their high school education, and have better opportunity to pursue an industry certificate, a post-secondary education, or start a career out of high school.

Preparing Colorado Students for 21st Century Careers
To ensure our students are prepared for life beyond school, it is essential that our public education system keep pace with the changing needs of the economy. A statewide youth apprenticeship system provides students apprenticeships exclusively in industries with a demand for work. With this system, students can ensure the skills they learn will be relevant to real 21st century careers.

Increasing Public Education Funding
Colorado’s schools are vastly underfunded, and we cannot expect our educators to provide all students a high quality education without the necessary resources.

  • We rank 41st in the nation for K-12 per pupil funding2  
  • We rank 47th in the nation in funding our higher education institutions3  and state funding for higher education is estimated to run completely dry by 20194
  • It’s estimated that our crumbling school infrastructure faces a $640 million funding shortage5 and
  • 50% of Colorado’s school districts operate only four days a week, the majority due to a lack of funding6

This is simply not right for Colorado. Legislation like TABOR, the negative factor, and the Gallagher Amendment have systematically cut our state’s education funding. I’m not suggesting that money will fix all of Colorado’s education problems, but it is clear that the lack of funding is causing real consequences, and it must be addressed.

Rebuilding Accountability and Trust in Education Funding
In Colorado, we know we need to adequately invest in our public education system, but many residents don’t trust politicians and other elected officials enough to make an investment. I believe that Colorado’s next Governor must rebuild that trust and demonstrate a new and higher level of accountability. Fiscal responsibility has been a bedrock of my work as an entrepreneur, nonprofit leader, and businessman - it will be a hallmark of my administration.

I believe that the next Governor must revive the trust between our state government and the people. I’m going to start by proving to the taxpayers that their dollars are being invested wisely. Every dollar should be focused on improving education outcomes for our kids and supporting our education professionals.

As Governor, I’ll search for areas where I can break bureaucratic barriers between departments to forge new partnerships between the Colorado Department of Education and the departments responsible for providing wraparound services, health services, and social services to decrease costs and improve education outcomes for our kids. After all, a child's life in the classroom is invariably impacted by their life outside the classroom. Finding effective education solutions must take both into account.

Spending the Political Capital to Make the Case for New Investment
As I make the case for an increased investment in education, I will fight to find the resources that our existing K-16 education system needs to excel. We must fix our schools crumbling infrastructure, find the money to keep school open 5 days a week, pay teachers a professional wage, and invest in our higher education institutions. Once we can pay for what we have, I will assess the costs of providing free pre-k and free community college, but these programs should not take the front seat over finding the resources to pay for the things that are fundamental to our existing public education systems.

As Governor, I will build a statewide coalition to support making an investment into our young people that will pay dividends in Colorado for years to come. As I have done for numerous non-profits that I have led in Colorado, I will bring together educators, parents, administrators, civic leaders, and business leaders throughout the state to develop an investment plan that will transform education at all levels. Within the first year of my administration, I will bring a proposal to increase education funding plan to you, the people. After all, we should all have the chance to vote on making an investment in our future.

In 1992, Colorado passed TABOR, a taxpayer bill of rights that limited our government's ability to grow through rigid funding formulas and revenue caps. Since 1992, these provisions have triggered state refunds of more than $5 billion.7 These dollars should have gone to supporting our education institutions, re-building infrastructure, and improving access to healthcare. Colorado had already passed measures to put those dollars in those places, but because of TABOR, we couldn’t. Through periods of economic growth, and recession, TABOR has strangled our government’s ability to properly fund education and other essential public services - today the costs of this bill are clear - it is time to make a change.

That’s why I’m proposing TABOR 2.0. Within the first two years of my administration I will ask the voters to remove the outdated spending formulas from TABOR, while keeping in place citizens’ right to vote on any new taxes. As I travel around our state, people tell me they are ready to have an honest conversation about the challenges we face. I know we can make commonsense improvements.

Gallagher 2.0
When Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment passed in 1982, it was well-intentioned. The amendment was meant to protect low and moderate income earners from being priced out of their homes by keeping property taxes from rising. Since 1982, our economy has evolved, and Colorado property values have increased dramatically, but because of Gallagher, our property taxes have not kept pace. Our schools rely heavily on local property tax revenue, but as property values continue to rise, Gallagher ratchets down the amount communities collect. This amendment must be revised to ensure low and moderate income earners continue to be protected from being priced out of their homes while ensuring the funding our schools need to be successful is made available.    

Supporting Our Teachers
Colorado is experiencing a massive teacher shortage that will almost certainly worsen.  Since 2010, there has been a nearly 25% drop in graduates from teacher preparation programs - we aren’t recruiting enough young teachers.8 On the other end, a third of Colorado teachers are expected to retire in the next five years9 - we are losing our experienced teachers. Existing teachers are retiring, and we don’t have new teachers to replace them. When we look at how Colorado treats it’s teachers, it’s clear why we have this problem:

  • Nationally, Colorado ranks 50th (dead last) in teacher-wage competitiveness10
  • 49th in the number of novice teachers in the classroom and
  • 41st in per-pupil teacher ratio11

This data shows that we place too many new teachers, in classrooms with too many kids, pay them far too little, and expect far too much.

Teachers outside the metro area face chronically low wages with more than 95% earning below the cost of living. Teachers in Pueblo received their first raise of 1% after 5 years of hard work, and their experience is not isolated. The average pay for teachers in many parts of our state is so low they can not afford to live in the communities in which they work, and it’s causing teachers to leave the profession.

To stop the teacher shortage, we must make improvements across the board -- pay teachers the professional wages their critical profession deserves, improve the teacher evaluation system to make it more fair and comprehensive, and create systems to recognize and reward teachers as they develop throughout their career.

Paying Our Teachers a Professional Wage
As Governor, I will prioritize increasing teacher pay as a key component of any major new investment in public education. 2 out of every 3 teachers that left the profession in 2011-12 said they would reconsider entering the field for a salary increase12 - that is significant. Teaching is among the most important professions in our society and it is nothing short of imperative that our teachers are paid accordingly. That means a professional wage so teachers can afford to live where they work and don’t need to seek government assistance.

More Professional Development Programs for Teachers
Our education system lacks an effective statewide system for professional teacher development. We should be utilizing the skills that senior teachers have developed throughout their careers to provide guidance to newer teachers within their schools, districts, or communities. As Governor, I will work with education leaders to identify effective professional development systems that our state can foster. In doing so, we can establish new platforms to recognize our teachers who have mastered their profession and exhibit to new teachers the path for professional and career development that teaching in Colorado offers.

Making Our Teacher Evaluation Policies More Fair and Comprehensive
In Colorado, we must ensure that the systems we use to evaluate our teachers are in line with the skills we expect to be taught in the classroom. A large factor in student success and high student test scores is parent involvement, something out of a teacher’s control.13 I have yet to hear any parent tell me they want their child to go to school to learn how to be a great test-taker, so why are we using tests so heavily in evaluating our teachers? It’s time to make a change.

Testing should be used as a tool for teachers to help them identify what areas their students struggle in, and to most effectively target the support their students need; not to punish teachers. As Governor, I will recommend that we repeal Senate Bill 10-191, and create legislation to establish new methods to evaluate student and teacher performance based not on how well a student tests, but through the best examples of cutting edge evaluation methods that we can find across the United States, and the world. Adjustments in our teacher evaluation process should be led by master teachers and education leaders throughout Colorado, with guidance from the state to ensure their recommendations reflect the needs of both urban and rural, high performing, and low performing schools.

As Governor, I will place the finalists of the Colorado Teacher of the Year award and the National Board of Teacher’s Certificate recipients in the front seat of Colorado’s evaluation reform process to ensure that the teachers who truly are the best in the business are leading the way on finding the most effective ways to evaluate other teachers, and help them improve.

Rethinking Teacher Pay for Performance
A re-designed teacher evaluation system that is led by teachers will give the state a new platform to measure performance, and allocate bonuses and raises to teachers. Today, teachers primarily earn raises when they go back to a university to earn additional degrees, or when they complete another year of teaching, but isn’t it odd that our teachers have no clear pathway to earn a raise by showing improvement, adopting leadership roles, or mentoring other teachers?

This model has been proven to work well in Durango, where teachers can earn raises for taking additional teacher training workshops, or volunteering to lead a sort of “laboratory classroom” where other teachers from the district, state, or nation can come to learn from how those teachers teach.

Other professional industries, doctors, lawyers, and engineers, all have periods of mentorship and menteeship -- on the job learning -- that supports a true k-99 environment. Our education system lacks an effective statewide system for professional teacher development. We should utilize the skills that more senior teachers, and teacher-leaders possess to provide guidance to younger teachers within their schools, districts, cities or communities.

As Governor, I will move to scale up programs like this one, to ensure teachers are recognized for their professional development. As Colorado’s best teacher’s find ways to improve our evaluation methods, Colorado can set new statewide standards to recognize high-performing teachers, and create additional opportunities for them to take on more responsibility in their schools, communities, or at the state level. With these measures, there will be new pathways for teachers to earn increased compensation that aligns more closely with their professional development.

Creating Stronger Student-Teacher Pipelines
A promising strategy for recruiting new teachers, especially in high needs areas, is to grow teaching talent locally by establishing new student-teacher pipelines. Student-teacher pipelines are programs that identify students who have an interest in teaching, generally in high school, and provide them pathways and first steps to enter the profession while they are still in school.

These programs can be grounded in partnerships with community colleges, 4-year universities, alternative teacher licensure programs, or through my proposed statewide youth apprenticeship program. These programs help students gain valuable experience early on, and can be very effective in attracting new teachers, especially in high-need rural communities.

As Governor, I will support the expansion of student-teacher pipeline programs, and will use my experience forging partnerships between education institutions, nonprofits, and industry to aid communities in developing pipeline programs that align with their needs and resources.

  5. 21st Century School Fund, Inc., U.S. Green Building Council, Inc., and the National Council on School Facilities.)
  6. (Colorado Department of Education)